jim-boothYou’d be smiling, too, if a group of employees saved your life, as the staff at the YMCA did for Jim Booth back in December. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)


On December 24, Jim Booth of Red Bank was feeling swell. He’d recently been a little more tired than usual and was experiencing some indigestion, but aside from that, he said nothing was out of the ordinary.

“I considered myself in good shape for my age,” Booth, 59, said. “I could run and bike for miles.”

He competed in triathlons with his children several times a year, ate well and regularly exercised at Red Bank’s Community YMCA, as he has for the last 25 years.

That’s where he was when he collapsed from a heart attack en route to the showers and, for several moments, was dead.

“I woke up the 30th, and they were prepping me for surgery,” he says of his first awareness of what had hit him. “Then I woke up on New Year’s Eve just in time for New Year’s. The nurses were having a little party and I was, to the extent I could, enjoying it.”

Booth says he never would have made it to that point — a successful triple bypass surgery —  had it not been for the staff at the YMCA, who were by his side seconds after he collapsed, pumping his chest with an automated external defibrillator and administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They got his heart going again by the time Red Bank First Aid volunteers arrived and took over, said Andrea Plaza, co-interim executive director for the YMCA.

“My heart stopped,” Booth said. “If it hadn’t been for them, I don’t think I’d be here today.”

It turns out his fatigue and what he thought was indigestion were actually warning signs of his heart attack, doctors later told Booth. But he wasn’t educated about the signs, and aside from taking some medicine for his symptoms, ignored them.

That’s why he’s now a strong advocate for people coming out to the Y on Sunday for its annual Healthy Hearts Day clinic, where he’ll  be speaking. The clinic, which runs from 1:30 to 3p, will offer screenings, tips and warning signs of heart problems. Booth will share his story.

Because you can’t always have trained people around you to help, Booth said he wishes he’d known some of the warning signs beforehand so he could’ve gone to the doctor. Instead, he’s now going through physical therapy to regain his strength and stamina.

He says he feels better every day. Soon enough he’ll be back to his normal routine at the Y, and eventually, he said, back to what he enjoys.

“I have no fear in saying that I’ll run a triathlon this summer with my kids,” Booth said. “I’ll get there. I have no doubt about it.”

His return to the YMCA last week, however, wasn’t to run laps or take a swim, but to meet the people who saved him and thank them, something he says he can’t do enough.

Among them was Rebecca Rivera, who started working at the Y within the last year. In May, a Little Silver man had a heart attack and was saved by Rivera and other staff. A former EMT, Rivera said she wouldn’t want to re-live that moment with Booth on Christmas Eve, but luckily it turned out for the better.

“It was the best Christmas present you could give to anybody,” she said.

“They saved my life,” Booth says. “I feel endeared to them, not only for what they’ve done for the last 25 years, but when they save your life it’s gets a little bit more important.”